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Wednesday 3 January 2018

Antonio Tempesta’s etching, “Ceres Ordering Erysicthon's Punishment”, 1606

Antonio Tempesta (c1555–1630)

“Ceres ad Famem Nympham in Erisichtonis poenam amandat” (aka “Ceres Ordering Erysicthon's Punishment” [TIB title]), 1606, plate 79 from the series of 150 plates (plus the title plate), “Metamorphoseon sive transformationum” (The Metamorphoses of Ovid), published by Willem Jansz. Blaeu (aka Willem Jansz; Willem Janszoon Blaeu; Willem Jones Blaeu; Willem Janssen; Guilelmo Janszoon Blaeum; Wilhelmus Janssonius) (1571–1638). (Note: The first state of the frontispiece for the series has Pieter de Jode I’s name as the publisher but this attribution is now rejected. Interestingly, Bartsch proposes that the frontispiece is by an anonymous printmaker rather than Tempesta [see BM no. X,3.194])

Etching on laid paper trimmed along the platemark.
Size: (sheet, trimmed unevenly) 10.5 x 11.9 cm
Inscribed below the image borderline: (left) “79”; (centre) “Ceres ad Famem Nympham in Erisichtonis poenam amandat.”

TIB 36.716 (151) (Sebastian Buffa & Walter L Strauss [eds.] 1983, “The Illustrated Bartsch 36: Antonio Bempesta: Italian Masters of the Sixteenth Century, Abaris Books, New York, p. 49) ;Bartsch XVII.151.716; Cicognara 4749; Brunet 695; Graesse VI(2).49; Funck 399; Henkel-Illustrierte Augsbagen von Ovid's Metamorphosen in Bibl. Warburg Vorträge 1926, p. 60

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Plate 79; Ceres in her chariot at centre, commanding a nymph to carry out Erysichthon's punishment; with Erysichthon below to right felling a tree in Ceres's grove, and with Famine seated outside her cave below to left.”
See also the description at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the Rijksmuseum:;

Condition: well-printed early impression, as shown by the crispness of the lines and signs of surface scratches still evident in the impression. The sheet is trimmed on the platemark and is in very good condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, abrasions or significant stains, but the paper has mellow toning/darkening appropriate to its age).

I am selling this small etching from 1606 by one of the most famous of the Renaissance printmakers, for the total cost of AU$165 (currently US$129.27/EUR107.57/GBP95.35 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing this strong image showing in the lower left corner what the personification of famine looks like in the form of the Roman goddess, Fames, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

For those unfamiliar with the series of mythological hijinks underpinning the “Metamorphoses of Ovid”, this scene shows the Roman goddess, Ceres, in her chariot pulled by dragons with waggly tails telling a nymph carrying an armful of grain—one of the symbolic attributes of Ceres as the goddess of agriculture—to pay a visit to the goddess of famine, Fames, shown at the lower left of this illustration. The story after this is rather dreadful as the nymph asks Fames to breathe her famine-laden breath into the king of Thessaly’s mouth as retribution for the king (Erysichthon) having chopped down one of Ceres’ sacred trees—see him in action on the lower right of the composition. As a result of Fames’ breathing on the king, the king becomes so hungry that he literally eats himself … shocking story!

What may be interesting to contemplate is whether Tempesta is successful in his illustration of what the goddess of famine should look like (according to Ovid):

“Her hair was coarse, her face sallow, her eyes sunken; her lips crusted and white; her throat scaly with scurf. Her parchment skin revealed the bowels within; beneath her hollow loins jutted her withered hips; her sagging breasts seemed hardly fastened to her ribs; her stomach only a void; her joints wasted and huge, her knees like balls, her ankles grossly swollen” (see AD Melville [trans.] 1998, “Metamorphoses”, Oxford University Press. pp. 195–197).

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